07/21/2006 01:59 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

We and They

My mother rang early this morning. "Your movie's on the cover of Time!" she exclaimed. Why We Fight, my film about the forces that drive American war-making has just come out on DVD, and my mom knows that every bit of coverage the film gets keeps Americans thinking about the question of its title.

So with excitement I ran to pick up a copy, only to discover my mom didn't have it quite right. The actual Time cover read "Why They Fight," an ironic reference to the roots of the current conflict between Israel and Hezbollah. I confess to a moment of deflation when I realized that "my" war had been knocked off the front page by a new one. A further confession: it wasn't the first time that making a war documentary felt uneasily like ambulance-chasing - that the worse the quagmire in the desert gets the better things are for my box office. So whereas the conflict between Israel and Hezbollah must have given George Bush a moment's relief from the unrelenting torrent of tragedy and failure emanating from Iraq, to me it might mean a dip in DVD sales.

I imagine my film must have been on the minds of Time's editors, but perhaps only to the extent that their play on its words was designed to remind us that Americans do not alone own the copyright on war and that we aren't all that bad when compared to a world rife with conflict and discord.

That's true. It's also true that since my film does not try to explain why humans in general resort to violence but instead focuses on the particular forces behind American war, perhaps it would have been more accurate to call it "Why America Fights." Part of the risk of a film like mine is that spending 90 minutes focusing so critically on the American way of war could be understood to imply that the rest of the world is somehow exempt - that other governments don't mislead their people to war nor fight wars for profit over principle. Of course they do, but because one can't take on the whole world in 90 minutes, my film could leave the misleading impression that America is unique in the corruption that afflicts her policy apparatus.

Another risk is that, when an idealistic American awakes to discover shortfalls in our system, the sense of crashing disillusionment can often be hard to contain. Before long, one starts to see American mischief behind all the world's problems. This is dangerous not only because it is unduly critical of America, but also because it presumes that other societies lack the complexity for homegrown corruption - that they are innocent until acted upon by greater outside powers. The ongoing conflict between Israel and Palestine, as well as the current conflagration with Hezbollah, clearly derives from longstanding historical tensions, only exacerbated by complex contemporary geopolitical forces and tensions.

Having said all that, I am a guy with a hammer, so of course everything looks like a nail. This means while I'm sensitive to the danger of unduly implicating America, I still have to wonder: is there a connection between why we fight and why they fight? Though this latest middle east violence has its own roots, what role have we played? What message, for example, has our Iraq adventure sent to the players involved?

Did America's original willingness to "go it alone" in defiance of so much of the will of the world community encourage each side to do the same? Did the President's willingness to declare a war upon a nation in response to an act of terror by non-state actors provide Israel an example for its assault on Lebanon as a technique for smoking out Hezbollah? Did America's demonstrated disregard for longstanding conventions of war (from preemption to torture) embolden each side to see prevailing instruments governing the conduct of war as archaic? Worst of all, with Newt Gingrich predicting World War III, did President Bush's use of religiously charged language during the lead-up to the Iraq war confirm for both sides that, indeed, there is a division between cultures worth killing for?

Who knows? But when even Lou Dobbs is accusing the United States of "geopolitical inconsistency and shortsightedness that has contributed to the Arab-Israeli conflict," it would seem that just when my war seemed in danger of falling off the front page, indeed our actions do resonate elsewhere -- that how and why they fight may be inextricably linked to how and why we do.